When I see another parent, a fellow parent, struggling, having a moment, breaking any number of the either well-researched or fabricated rules of parenting, I just want to let them know one thing—I see you. I see you, and I’ve been there, and we are all on the same crazy train, together.
(Intrusive point of clarification: I am not talking about abuse. Once in my life I saw a child in a situation that felt scary, like, follow the mom to the parking lot and get a license plate number kind of scary; scary because I wanted to put my hand on her and stop the escalation, and say, gently, “hey, do you need help?” but I was too afraid, kind of scary. So no, I am not talking about abuse.)
I am talking about parenting screw ups, the ones we all make, all the time, and that cause others, well meaning or not, to reflect poorly on our character, for no reason other than their own sweet but flawed human nature.
Parenting by the seat of one’s pants, right in the moment of overwhelm, with a clenched jaw, and eyes on you, and sleep deprivation shaking you like a slobber-favored dog toy. Those moments. The ones where you just choke, and then, everyone around you makes an idea about who or how you are, and they miss the point. You know, the one point that is not lost on any single parent, until it’s hidden underneath judgment?
Parenting is hard.
It is impossibly hard. It is beautiful and glorious and more profound than anything I’ve ever experienced. It has also torn me to shreds, and taught me more about myself and my failings than any other single endeavor in this sweet life. More than the military, junior high, dating, trying out for cheerleading in high school, pediatric oncology nursing, the bone marrow transplant unit, growing up as a strong, but still a female-female in the USA and particularly Wyoming; wow the list goes on and on. This is the hardest.
Never before have I been entrusted with tiny vulnerability that is also cloaked in mightiness. Never before have I been faced with all the trickle down of my lineage, staring back at me through eyes that look almost exactly like my own. And never before have I had to do one thing, so diligently, and without any preparation at all, before any of the things that I might selfishly want to do instead…so much so that all of those once beloved things withered to the point of marginal recognition, once I’d realized they’d even fallen out of my life. Never before have I had to fight, myself, to keep the things that feed my soul, so that I, too, don’t wither. Never before have I been this misunderstood, judged, and even insulted. It has been the best, hardest part of my life.
So when I see someone struggling, doing what I might have done when my jaw was still more clenched than laughter loosened? When I see someone having a hard time, not yet knowing what I might see or know today? I am kind to him, or her. I talk, and I just let her know I see you. I let him know, however I can, that I am just here, and I am not the enemy. That it is safe here, and I see the child too, and both of you are worthy of my respect. Because? I am witnessing the most intimate of relationships, in a little hiccup, right now, playing out in public, where we are all just far enough out of our hubs to be a little odd, rigid, or unsure.
We have got to give parents space, and love, and support. We need to accept that it looks however it looks, in whatever family we are looking at. We need to understand it is a moment, and there is a greater context we do not ever get to see. We need to be a part of the community, not elevated above it, looking down on those who are working it through. With compassion, and confidence, we can help, rather than dismiss, diminish, and further harm, even through the smallest encounters.